December 16, 1998
He's come a long way from the scruffy kid who played baseball in a vacant lot in upstate New York. A long way from the young coach who called Notre Dame's former athletic director Gene Corrigan and informed him that he would be the next head baseball coach for the Fighting Irish. A long way from March 22, 1998 when he became the youngest coach to reach 500 wins (with 75 percent of his victories coming from the Div. I level). A long way from Omaha, Nebraska where he took the ASU baseball team to the national championship game.
Today, Arizona State head baseball coach Pat Murphy sits quietly at his desk in Tempe, Arizona and reflects on a brilliant year and a promising future for the Sun Devil program.
"I feel very fortunate to have been a small part of a truly exceptional season," Murphy says. "It was an experience I will never forget."
The 1998 season marked the Sun Devils returned to the promised land - Omaha, Nebraska, where collegiate baseball crowns its national champion each year. Although the Sun Devils came in last in almost every single statistical category among the elite eight in Omaha, when the dust cleared, ASU was still standing while six other squads where packing their collective bags to head home. And despite being seeded sixth out of eight teams at the College World Series, Murphy had led his team to the title game for a national championship. Although the team came up short that day, Arizona State once more asserted itself as a traditional baseball powerhouse.
"Last year was a phenomenal experience," says Murphy. "The greatest part was to see the players come together and achieve almost everything they wanted. As a coach, it was great to see the way the things you teach your team play a role in the whole experience.
"We had very good leadership from our players," Murphy notes. "It makes a statement to all college baseball that it's not always the most talented team that goes the farthest. It's more opportunity than anything else. This team would not be denied. I'm kind of shocked we lost that last game. I didn't do a whole lot down the stretch, I just let them play. I'm thankful to have been a part of it and feel great about what they accomplished."
Those accomplishments included a number two ranking in the final polls and for Murphy, Coach of the Year accolades from Baseball America. Individually, six Sun Devils were honored as All-Americans and sophomore Willie Bloomquist ended the season in first in seven conference batting categories, including batting average (.414).
But for all of the 1998 squad's accomplishments, Murphy can not help but remember the players who set the groundwork for their success.
"I can't help but think back to a lot of the guys who deserve some credit for building this team to the point where it is now," notes Murphy. "I thought about Dan McKinley, Robbie Kent, Randy Betten - guys who played in years before but who never got to play for a national championship."
The 1998 season marked a personal milestone for coach Murphy as well. With a 7-6 victory over California on March 22, 1998, Pat Murphy became the youngest coach at age 39 (with 75 percent of his wins coming from Div. 1 schools) to reach 500 wins.
"I'm just thankful and lucky to have these opportunities," says Murphy. "Being the youngest probably signifies that I did it making more mistakes than any other coach to reach 500.
"Milestones aren't for coaches - it comes up every once and a while if your around long enough - they're really for the players. I just want to make sure I'm getting better as a coach."
Murphy came to Arizona State five years ago from Notre Dame where he coach the Fighting Irish for seven years. He led the Irish to six 45-plus win season, national recognition and four conference titles. The decision to leave South Bend was not an easy one for Murphy. When he left, he became the first head coach to leave Notre Dame for another college program.
"Notre Dame did so much for me," Murphy says. "I can't even put into words how much that institution did for me while I was there, but also how much it did for me while I was growing up. It served as a great example. Anything I ever did for Notre Dame could never match what it did for me. It will be special to me forever.
"When I left it wasn't so much leaving Notre Dame but taking on a new opportunity," notes Murphy. "At the time I felt it was best for me. Notre Dame didn't miss a beat without me. I'm proud of what I did but I'm more proud to know I was just a part of it. I struggled with the decision to come here, but I knew that sometimes you have to step out of your element and grow as a person and a coach."
Murphy became only the third coach in Arizona State baseball history on August 17, 1994. Since then he has led the Devils to two consecutive postseason appearances in 1997 and '98 and a second place finish in the '98 College World Series. But more than that he has tried to develop his players not only as athletes but also a people.
"When you get in to this profession, I think most of us are just as interested in developing our players as people," Murphy states. "One of the biggest thrills for me is to have players come back and to be part of their lives beyond the time you coached them. That's tremendous. Or to watch a player go on and be successful in whatever endeavor he chooses- whether that be the major leagues or a doctor, lawyer or coach."
As Murphy looks toward the future of the Arizona State baseball program he is filled with a sense of duty.
"I'm going to work to make it the best program in America," says Murphy. "It's a lifework of mine to make ASU the best program it can possibly be. Right now I feel an awesome sense of responsibility to continue to build this program day in and day out- 365 days a year. It's a life work."